Michigan State’s Title IX Problems Aren’t Unique

After sports physician Larry Nassar’s sexual misconduct involving the U.S. women’s national team gymnasts came to light, a third-party review was ordered by the U.S. Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR).

The review was part of a resolution agreement between OCR and Michigan State University (MSU) after federal officials found the school failed to respond properly to reports of sexual misconduct by Nassar and former dean William Strampel. Strampel is serving a one-year sentence for making sexual comments to women who sought academic advice from him. Nassar, who was employed by MSU, was sentenced to up to 175 years on federal and state charges related to his abuse of more than 100 female athletes.

An outside review of a school’s Title IX procedures is common in resolution agreements. The review shined a spotlight on inefficiency and staffing issues, something often found at schools from coast to coast.

Title IX on College Campuses: Too Many Cases, Too Few Case Managers

One of the findings in the review is that cases seemed unduly delayed, which is problematic for both the complainant and the respondent. In the cases closed by the school’s Office of Institutional Equity (OIE) in the 2021 fall semester, more than half (10 of 19) were extensively delayed without explanation. Delays were also found in 42% of cases in spring 2020. There appeared to be stretches of inactivity in these cases.

Not closing cases promptly is certainly due in part to staffing issues. OIE has rarely been fully staffed since 2018, according to a company that began contracting with MSU in October 2021 to provide support services for Title IX and related areas. The contract was necessitated by the removal (and subsequent resignation) of the school’s Title IX coordinator.

There are currently five vacant positions and two positions being filled by an interim. There are a total of 42 positions within the school’s Office for Civil Rights and Office of Institutional Equity. The office isn’t fully staffed in part because of staff burnout.

On the West Coast, Fresno State’s Title IX office was reported understaffed compared to similarly sized campuses. The school had no full-time Title IX coordinator until 2018. Employees were tasked with handling Title IX issues on top of their regular duties. A victim advocate at the school complained that the school didn’t offer any substantive prevention efforts.

Title IX Coordinators Need More Training and Support

Staff who are put in a decision-making capacity are sometimes not adequately trained. They must fully understand Title IX and the school’s policies and procedures. But that’s not all. They need a comprehensive understanding of sexual harassment and other issues reported to the Title IX office. Investigators should be fully trained in how to effectively and respectfully interview the complainant, the respondent, and potential witnesses.

Ensuring they have the training they need is only one-half of the equation. Support is equally important. The fatal combination of no to little training and support drives much of the turnover. One report from 2019 showed that the University of Cincinnati had four different Title IX coordinators in less than four years. Many schools fall short of stable leadership and knowledge in this position, a situation that equally hurts complainants and respondents.

Legal Help in a Turbulent Title IX Environment

If you or someone you love is the subject of a Title IX investigation, having experienced legal counsel to advise you is critical. At Parisi, Coan & Saccocio, PLLC, our focus is defending students, faculty, and staff accused of Title IX violations. We fight for our clients to receive entitled due process and help hold schools accountable.

Title IX defense is highly specialized. We offer the knowledge and insight that a general defense lawyer would be unable to replicate.

Don’t be pushed through the process. Contact us about your legal rights. Schedule a consultation through our online form or call (737) 200-2332.